Nishta Bhatia

It is going to be hard to keep the surprise for long because this awardee is very unique and has long and storied history of Club and community service. There aren’t many of us who haven’t been touched in some way by the work that she has done.

Our lovely recipient is an acorn who hasn’t fallen far from a very significant tree. Her father grew up in a rural village and was a farmer. After moving to multiple countries, he completed his education with a PhD in Physics at the University of Chicago. Along the way, he had been a taxi driver, farm laborer and lumber mill employee. Never doubting the value of an education, he raised a daughter who shared that ambition to achieve and to be educated.

When her dad went to teach at Washington State in the US for a year he brought the family. At the end of that year, she asked to be left behind in the US so she could finish her undergraduate education. She was 18 and never looked back…

Next came a Masters degree in Guidance and Counseling at USC where she would meet the love of her life at a reception for the Consul General of India (turns out her father had become very close to India’s first prime minister, Nehru). Her husband shared with me that he was an invitee as well. When he arrived, he noticed a beautiful young lady surrounded by a group of admiring young Indian men. He stood at the back waiting to get a chance to meet and talk with her but realized that he had no hope of being noticed. As they called people in to the dinner from the cocktail reception, he slyly slid into the seat next to her. At the end of a very pleasant meal,’ the young engineer asked for her number so he could contact her again. In the face of an overly persistent suitor, the young lady purposefully gave him the wrong number. Undaunted, he called a woman who was with them and got the number- and the girl!!! They married six months later and then traveled around the world for their honeymoon!

It was the young bride who saw an ad for a Civil Structural Engineer for Bechtel that got the young couple a job in Baltimore, MD, where our awardee started teaching Junior High Math and English. In 1971, a son was born. Bechtel opened an office in Ann Arbor in 1972, which brought them to the Midwest. After several nuclear disasters, the family moved to Spain (on the plain…JK) while the young mom was very pregnant. A daughter was born while they were in a hotel still awaiting their luggage! In ’79, they moved back to Ann Arbor for good.

Her husband shared that the two of them come from opposite sides of the tracks- not right or wrong, just opposite. As their children needed to go to high school, he felt that Ann Arbor public schools were a fine choice- or Greenhills, if she wanted private. But, with her father’s voice whispering in her ear, she wouldn’t hear of anything but a private prep school out East. He said’ they couldn’t afford that on his income’ to which she replied, ‘then I will start a company on my own,’ and The Nanny Corporation was born.

She is fiercely independent and persistent, sees opportunity where the window exists, and I am indebted to her for allowing me to share in the leadership of Rotary for she made the call to ask me to be your president three years ago.

In addition to a rich family life, Nishta is a busy woman.  She has beena member of our club for 23 years, is a multiple Paul Harris Fellow and an active community volunteer who exemplifies the Rotary motto of “Service above Self.”

While her children were young Nishta volunteered in school activities and was on the Board of the Ann Arbor Symphony and the Advisory Committee of UMS, where she and Naren co-chaired the Ford Honors Gala.  She was a highly effective member and chair of the club's International Committee, where she took the lead on developing several major projects that included visits to sites in India and Guatemala. 

Nishta has also been very active in the Thrift Shop of Ann Arbor, where she was president in 2010-11, and then stayed in leadership mode.  During her year as President of our Rotary Club, Nishta made many innovative contributions, including establishing the Centennial Project task force that researched and ultimately proposed the Universal Access Park, an effort that has benefitted from her tireless dedication and newfound grant writing skills.  

Nishta is also an avid reader, belongs to at least two book groups where she usually has read everything before anyone else.  She’s an adventurous hiker all over the world – Bhutan, Nepal, Norway, and even Beaver Island, where they have a summer home. 

Not surprisingly, the Bhatias have two accomplished children: son Ranjeet is an international investor in London while living in Norway with his wife, Elizabeth and their two beautiful children, Finn and Noora; daughter Meera is a high tech executive who manages with complex projects all over the country.  Although neither of them could be here today, I’d like to read part of the beautiful tribute they sent:

Congratulations Mom! We so wish we could be there with you today.  

Over the last several years, we’ve watched you pour your energy into supporting the community in Ann Arbor and around the world. We are inspired by your dedication of time and heart to help people in such a meaningful way.

When our friends trade stories about what their parents are up to, we get to share that in addition to traveling to warm places and knitting sweaters, our Mom just kicked off a project to develop a universal access playground or one to bring water to a village in India.  That pretty much wins us the coolest mom award.   

You’ve spent your life supporting us to be our best. We are thrilled that for once the spotlight is on you (even if you hate the spotlight.  Congratulations on this much deserved recognition. We love you.

To a superstar in the Rotary constellation and a great person, our first DSA of 2015 goes to Nishta Bhatia…(Remarks by Karen Kerry and Anne Glendon, Oct. 7, 2015)